For all the criticism Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke has received over his trade for Phil Kessel, signing defenseman Mike Komisarek to a big free-agent contract might have been his worst move.
Komisarek was a healthy scratch last night in Boston, with coach Ron Wilson choosing the likes of Cody Franson and rookie Jake Gardiner over the veteran with the $4.5-million cap hit.
“I didn’t have the best last game,” Komisarek said, as per the Toronto Star’s Damien Cox. “I’ve got to try and re-focus, re-set and come back strong.”
Komisarek inked a five-year, $22.5-million deal with Toronto in the summer of 2009, a move Burke was mostly applauded for making.
“We are extremely pleased to add a player with Mike’s ability and leadership qualities to our lineup,” Burke said at the time. “He’s a respected competitor in this league and we know that he will bring his hard-nosed approach to our team on a consistent basis.”
The signing was all part of Burke’s plan to toughen up the Leafs and build a winning team quickly through free agency. (“July 1 will be our draft.”)
The plan didn’t work.
Komisarek appeared in just 34 games in 2009-10 before shoulder surgery sidelined him for the last half of the season.
In 2010-11, poor play saw his ice-time dip to 13:38 per game.
Komisarek is a big guy that likes to play physical, but he’s not the fleetest of foot and doesn’t add much in the way of offense or puck-moving ability. Prior to the lockout, his size and strength might’ve outweighed his shortcomings. Not in today’s NHL though.
Komisarek worked on getting lighter and quicker over the summer and his performance in the preseason was promising at times.
“Our game is evolving, so you have to be able to move,” Wilson said in September. “That’s what was getting him into a little trouble last year. He did not have much time whenever he got the puck, and he realized that. Getting himself even a 10th of a second of more time to make a decision, that helps.”
Last night was obviously a step back.
So what do the Leafs do if Komisarek can’t reinvent himself? There’s been plenty of speculation he could be sent to the AHL’s Marlies, but Burke and Wilson have quashed that idea.
The Leafs have very little cap space to play with, so a healthy $4.5-million defenseman sitting in the press box doesn’t look good on Burke, no matter how much the GM lauds Komisarek for being a positive influence in the dressing room.